A UNIQUE island garden is now free to see at Winchester City Mill.

The garden, designed by students from Sparsholt College, is a National Trust first with the micro-climate by the river enabling tropical plants to thrive.

The project, at the mill in Bridge Street, has been a year in the making and will allow the garden to better tolerate a range of climatic conditions including prolonged periods of hot dry weather and heavy rainfall.

Hampshire Chronicle: Island garden launchIsland garden launch (Image: Kimberley Barber)

The island garden can be enjoyed for free by visitors as an extension of the Mill’s indoor café, giving people a peaceful space to take refreshments. 

A total of 15 designs by the Sparsholt horticulture students were whittled down, with Nina Inman-Cook’s tropical arrangement catching the eye of the National Trust team.

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Having her design brought to life has landed Nina a full-time job as a garden designer with Alaster Anderson.

Hampshire Chronicle: NinaNina (Image: Kimberley Barber)

Nina, 20, from Twyford, said: “We had the opportunity to put forward three ideas. I did not expect mine to be chosen at all.

“I thought I’d end up working in landscaping but now I’m a designer. This project was 100 per cent the reason I got my job, it gave me the confidence to try something I hadn’t done before. It’s all been very unexpected, it’s changed my career plan.

“I haven’t been involved in the planting process so it’s lovely to see how my idea has come to life.

“The National Trust doesn’t have any tropical gardens other than this one so it was always going to stand out. RHS Wisley also inspired my planting pallet.

“The mild weather captured down here meant I could pick plants that we wouldn’t be able to grow elsewhere.”

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National Trust’s Winchester City Mill’s garden has had an upgrade thanks to Sparsholt College — and its free to visit!

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Sparsholt lecturer Chris Bird said: “We always like to have a live project for our garden design students to get involved in.

“The space looks really good and the planting is true to Nina’s inspiration. The new design has brought the garden into the current time, future-proofed it and made it much more manageable.”

National Trust gardener Michael Harvey led a team of volunteers and fellow gardeners to make Nina’s idea a reality.

Hampshire Chronicle: The new island garden at Winchester City MillThe new island garden at Winchester City Mill (Image: Kimberley Barber)

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Mr Harvey, 28, from Bishop’s Waltham, said: “It’s fantastic and a huge credit to the young horticulturalists who designed the garden. They get to see their designs put into plans which brings their portfolio of expertise right up.

“We don’t have a tropical garden here in Winchester so it’s unique to the area and the National Trust. We’ve got ‘Bengal Tiger’ plants and tree ferns. It’s foliage with a bit of colour and the flowers are only going to grow bigger.

“The climate by the river means it’s a frost-free environment. It’s such a wonderful space to put all these plants in.

“The key things we wanted from this project were to create a garden that people could sit and enjoy the tearooms in, make something really unusual and give back to the community. I think we’ve done that with this magnificent garden.

“All the people in Winchester are going to love it.”

The mayor of Winchester, Councillor Angela Clear formally announced the garden as open at a launch party on Tuesday, September 12.

Cllr Clear said: “It’s crucial to create new green spaces. We’ve got all these developments going on and I know they are needed but it’s vital that they incorporate new green spaces like this one.

“What a beautiful sight the neighbours will have now. We need more green spaces like this.”

Donations from the general public and local support groups of around £25,000 helped make the project possible.